The Cincinnati Reds watched their 2013 leadoff hitter Shin-Soo Choo bolt for a big market with big money to offer him after the season with the hope that they had an emerging star in Billy Hamilton to replace Choo as the leadoff hitter and center fielder. Hamilton has been more than advertised in the field, showing he’s an instant Gold Glover despite playing just one full season in the minors as a center fielder. But at the plate, Hamilton has looked a lot more like Willy Taveras than Choo.
Taveras was a last-ditch effort by general manager Walt Jocketty in 2009 to try to address the problems the Reds had in center field and the leadoff position. In what would prove to be the last year as a starter in Taveras’ short career, he disappointed. He was signed coming off of a 68-steal season with the Colorado Rockies only to falter at the plate with the Reds in 2009. His .240 BA and .275 OBP with 25 SBs overall as primarily a leadoff hitter marked his last chance to make it in the majors.
Taveras was out of the majors for good after 2010. While Hamilton doesn’t face that kind of crash landing at the end of this season, he has done little at the plate to separate himself from Taveras: .251/.286 with 23 SBs. The Reds don’t need Hamilton to be at his career peak this season, but given the offensive woes of one of the worst hitting teams in the majors, a more successful Hamilton would’ve been extremely timely.
The Reds have proven they can win without a leadoff hitter and center fielder leading the way to regular season success. In 2012 when the Reds won the NL Central, Drew Stubbs was so bad as a leadoff hitter that year that he was moved to second in the batting order. Stubbs finished the year with a .217/.296 line before being traded as part of the deal that brought Choo to the Reds in 2013.
Until Hamilton improves his ability to reach base, the Reds really need to drop him in the order. If Hamilton turns out to be as incapable of that skill as Stubbs did, then the Reds will at some point arrive at a similar decision to deal the speedster for a player who can better help the team like Choo did.